A blog about movies and filmmaking.

Monster, theme parks and Spring dances

In comedy, Horror on September 22, 2009 at 5:59 pm

The fall’s horror movies have started appearing. We’ve gotten THE FINAL DESTINATION and HALLOWEEN 2 – neither of which I’ve seen – and with the Halloween season coming soon, there should be a number of other scary movies appearing on the big screen (and in one example, that I want to point out, on DVD, with a movie called TRICK ‘R TREAT). But the two that I saw this week, were both horror comedies, in the vein of the Edgar Wright movies like SHAUN OF THE DEAD and sort of HOT FUZZ (it was meant more as a send-up of action movies, but there’s some great horror moments too), and more satirical horror movies like the SCREAM and “I KNOW…” series.

The first movie is the second (cinematic) effort of JUNO scribe, Diablo Cody, and she’s joined by the movie director of AEON FLUX and GIRLFIGHT, Karyn Kusama. JENNIFER’S BODY, stars Megan Fox, as the titular character (I wonder if you’ll see a pun there), and she’s joined on-screen by Amanda Seyfried, who has been a solid performer in a number of the projects I’ve seen her in (namely, BIG LOVE, and MEAN GIRLS). The two girls play best friends in the movie, and while Fox’s character is the school hottie/cheerleader/slut, Seyfried’s character is given the “metaphorical” nickname Needy, who is a nerdy girl, who has still managed to stay friends with the more popular one. And early on we learn how their relationship really works. Needy likes that she’s one of the special people that gets to be Jennifer’s best friend, and also the attention that she’s given by Jennifer; and Jennifer keeps Needy around, because she helps to make Jennifer feel better about herself, and also because she provides a stability and someone trustworthy for her to rely on.

So, it’s this relationship that forms the backbone of the movie, where the girls head off to a club to see a small indie band, from the “city”. Jennifer wants to hook up with the lead singer (played by the funny Adam Brody – who I think I might have only seen in THANK YOU FOR SMOKING, directed by Jason Reitman, who also directed JUNO – see how that works.), only the entire club burns down, there’s lots of chaos, and outside, the two girls are panicked, and Brody’s character strolls up nonchalantly and offers them a ride. Jennifer goes, and that’s what leads to the rest of the movie. Which consists of Jennifer puking black ooze, her eyes turning monstrous, some gnawing on fellow students, and a showdown in the derelict swimming pool-house right by the school – during the spring dance.

There have been some great blog posts – namely, this one by Io9’s Annalee Newitz – have commented on the acidic nature of the relationship between Needy and Jennifer – and some girls in general, and while I agree with it, I have to say, that I can see the correlation between friends of any gender. It’s been played up in movies ad nauseam (ROUNDERS, THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY, just off the top of my head – and weird they’re both Matt Damon movies), but it might also be that I can see that side, being that a great majority of my friends are female. (This isn’t to say that I have these relationships with my friends, but I’ve seen and been treated this way.)

Anyway, the dynamic between the girls, as I mentioned is really what forms the backbone of the movie. There’s some kind of hackneyed “psychic connection” idea alluded to, and also frequent flashbacks to the two girls as little kids, in a sandbox, and sort of the beginning of their essentially codependent relationship. And it’s in this regard that the movie works and even kind of shines. Fox, who presents us with the shallow, beautiful Jennifer, gives us a great character (whether it’s performance or reality) and is made more believable by Seyfried’s wanton looks at Jennifer, and through narration explaining how she kowtow’s to Jennifer’s wishes (in particular, what Jennifer means when she says, “wear something cute”).

Besides the main stars, there are a couple of great supporting characters – and actors – who really make the movie shine whenever they’re on-screen. One being the already mentioned Adam Brody. The other being JK Simmons (having also been in JUNO and THANK YOU FOR SMOKING), who plays a school teacher – he looks ridiculous, yet is believable in this movie world. The rest of the performers are adequate. Nothing really stands out about Needy’s boyfriend, Chip, played by Johnny Simmons (seemingly no relation to JK); or to the other few boys that appear in the movie. And the two actress’ that play the moms we see in the movie are great character actors, Amy Sedaris (who gets some great lines), and Cynthia Stevenson (who was also a mom in the show DEAD LIKE ME). Amazingly, no dads are seen.

So, overall, I’m liking what we’ve gotten from Cody. She’s a stylized writer who is at least sticking out of the pack, and (so far) isn’t just remaking other properties.

The second movie I saw, ZOMBIELAND, is a superb take on the zombie genre. I dare say even as good – if not better than the recent UK movies that have come out – the 28 DAYS/MONTHS LATER series, and SHAUN OF THE DEAD, as mentioned. The movie starts with a narration by lead character “Columbus” – as in the city – played by the rich man’s Michael Cera, Jesse Eisenberg. He goes over the rules of surviving in the apocalyptic land, he refers to as Zombieland (character says title of the movie, drink). #1 is “Cardio”, and we see some fat guys getting run down and eaten. The movie follows along with these rules as it goes on, and always to hilarious effect – especially with rule #2, “Double Tap”. We are then introduced to Columbus, as he tries to stick to another rule, “be wary of bathrooms”, and is then chased by a couple of zombies. When he gets to his car and drops his keys (another drink, horrible thriller cliche! – No, I don’t know where this drinking game motif came from), he runs around in a big circle til he gets back to the car again, only to then realize he didn’t even lock the car door. After he crashes, because he forgot to abide by another rule (“Always check the back seat” – and points for acknowledging horror movie cliche), he crashes his car, and we see him then walking down a highway.

This is where he meets Tallahassee – amazingly portrayed by Woody Harrelson – who gives Columbus his moniker, based on his destination. It also helps to not know the actual names of people who might become zombies and try to eat you. They drive off together, probably one of the greatest mismatched duos, in cinema history, in Tallahassee’s Escalade with the number 3 written on the door. (He’s a hillbilly, if you didn’t get it from the casting, and whatnot.) We learn that Tallahassee loves killing zombies and his main goal in life is to be one of the last people in the world to eat a Twinkie. Which also gives us a number of laughs, and crazy hijinks. The two eventually come upon two other survivors – who are also both girls. Now before you go getting all hot and bothered, these ladies are portrayed by Emma Stone (SUPERBAD) and Abigail Breslin (LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE), only one of which is appropriate for “hook up potential” with our male heroes. We learned pretty early on that Columbus is kind of a shut in, and not, well, “that successful with the ladies,” shall we say. So, he has some silly and naive ideas on romance, and how to approach women. His big fantasy is to sweep a girl’s hair over her ear – y’know, like they do in movies. And there’s one great, great line regarding this.

The crux of the movie is the girls are trying to get to an amusement park outside of Los Angeles – no idea why, other than that mythical idea of there not being any zombies there. (That would be a drink-worthy offense, but earlier in the movie, this exact thing is brought up and pointed out for the crap that it is.) So, when said amusement park is reached, obviously zombies show up, and chaos rules. There’s shooting zombies from a roller coaster, there’s dropping zombies off a high-speed falling and rising ride (worst description of a ride ever, I have to stop this drinking), and even a clown…zombie.

The cast is AMAZING. Woody Harrelson steals the show, with his crass, hillbilly demeanor and just the pleasure he takes from killing the walking dead. Jesse Eisenberg, who was recently in the movie ADVENTURELAND (second movie about a theme park, with fucked up people, drink.), and a favorite of mine, ROGER DODGER – is great as the nerdy, survivor who uses Purell after killing zombies and is the only person we get a glimpse of his life before the zombiepocalypse. (There’s a flashback to Tallahassee’s life, but that’s an imagary thing of Columbus’, so don’t even bring that at me.) Emma Stone, is gorgeous (cliched internet review by a dude commenting on the beauty of a girl, finish your drink!) and seems to relish being able to shoot guns and be the bad girl. Breslin, who is growing up quick, does great as Little Rock (as in Arkansas), and has some great moments with Harrelson, when they’re practicing shooting.

Then there’s the cameo. It’s easily available to find out who is in the movie, other than these actors, but strike me dead if I’ll reveal who it is here. But, this person makes this movie a MUST SEE. It plays with your mind, and lulls you into a sense of security, then pulls the rug back out from under you – and then there’s the final scene after the end credits. AWESOME!

The movie as a whole is stylish, incredibly funny and another fresh vision of zombies taking over the world. The guys behind the movie; director, Ruben Fleischer, co-writers, Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, seem to be on their first major movie release, and they hit it out of the park. The dialogue is witty – whether that’s their work, or possibly a mingling of improv along with scripted words, I don’t know – the kills are fascinating and grotesque (we see a Hummer driving repeatedly over bodies, and heads), but over all, it’s just a great fun movie!

I could really see this being this fall’s THE HANGOVER (which, I have to say, I called as being the Summer’s biggest comedy – and I was right – but it was also like the third biggest movie of the summer. So, take heed in what I say!! And DRINK!!!) So, go see it when it is released in a couple weeks.

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